Kokoda trekkers who had the honour of meeting Ovoru Indiki in Naduri village will be saddened to learn of his passing on 15 November 2013.
Ovoru was a respected chief of Naduri Village which is about halfway across the Owen Stanley Ranges east of the Kokoda Trail. I believe he would have been in his early 60’s when I first met him in 1991 however it is difficult to substantiate his exact age because of the lack of records in PNG at the time of his birth. He would therefore now be in his late 80’s.
Ovoru was a teenager when war came to PNG with the bombings of Port Moresby in 1942. Like many Papuans at the time, they did not understand the war and did not know what was happening. Like many others he fled back to the safety of his village from the city. It was a long trek and he recalled to me that he was very frightened at the time. He was later recruited to help carry desperately supplies forward for the Australian troops fighting on the trail.
On his return journeys he often came across wounded Australian’s who could struggle no further. Ovoru and his friends would always stop and build a stretcher to carry the wounded digger back to ‘the care of doctors at the bottom of the track’ on the Sogeri Plateau. It was a slow and tortuous journey which took up to three weeks to complete. Ovoru was always proud that he was able to help our diggers in this way. There sacrifice on our behalf was immortalised by Sapper Bert Beros in his tribute poem, ‘Fuzzy-Wuzzy Angels’. Beros wrote it in the field hospital at Sogeri whilst he was convalescing after being carried off the track. His grandson and great-grandson have followed in his footsteps with Adventure Kokoda.
Many a mother in Australia
when her day’s work is done
Sends a prayer to the almighty
or the keeping of her Son
Asking that an angel guide him
and bring him safely back
Now is seems her prayers are answered
up on the Kokoda Track
‘Tho they haven’t any haloes
only holes made in their ears
Their faces are marked with tattoos
they wear scratchpins in their hair
Bringing back the wounded
as steady as a hearse
Using leaves to keep the rain off
and as gentle as a nurse
Slow and steady in bad places
on that awful mountain track
The look upon their faces
makes us think that Christ is black.
Every care to help the wounded
they treat him like a saint
It’s a picture worth recording
that an artists yet to paint
Many a lad will see their mothers
and husbands their wee ones and wives
Just because the fuzzy-wuzzies
carried them out and saved their lives
From mortar and machine gun fire
and chance surprise attack
To safety and the care of doctors
at the bottom of the Track
May the mothers of Australia
when they offer up a prayer
Just mention those impromptu angels
with the fuzzy-wuzzy hair.
After the war Ovoru was appointed Village Constable at Naduri under Australia’s colonial regime.
In 1975 PNG achieved independence from Australia and Ovoru Indiki was awarded an Independence Medal for his services to his village community.
To our great shame Ovoru, along with approximately 56,000 wartime carriers indentured to support the Australian war effort in PNG from 1942 – 1945, have never been formally recognised by the Australian Government.
In 2010 a select few were issued with a ‘fuzzy-wuzzy angel medallion’ as a slick Public Relations exercise to placate growing criticism of our past neglect. They public were duped into believing their service had finally been recognised however it was soon exposed as a bureaucratic sham. The medallion has no official status and ranks alongside similar types of promotional medallions which are usually distributed in cereal packets.
Notwithstanding this shameful neglect Ovoru Indiki’s presence in his native village of Naduri symbolised the service and sacrifice of his people to the thousands of trekkers who had the good fortune to meet him and thank him.
The world is a little poorer with Ovoru’s passing, but he can now rest in peace knowing that his service and sacrifice, and that of his people, is recognised by the people who count.
R.I.P old friend – your duty has been nobly done. You will never be forgotten.